Published Mar 13, 2007Lets face it: Thomas Harriss Hannibal Lecter has been a cash cow for both the literary and film genres. However, his chilling tales were disturbing enough to have fans constantly looking over their shoulders late at night. While most moviegoers realise that it was Anthony Hopkinss inimitable portrayal that made the films what they are, Hannibal Rising confirms our suspicions that without the Welshmans hypnotic stare and glib poise this brilliant serial killer is hardly himself. That isnt to take away from Brian Coxs worthy performance of the sociopath in Manhunter; instead its to drive home the fact that Hannibal Rising is a poorly imagined entry that severely damages what was a thoroughly enjoyable series of thrillers.
Detailing Hannibals origin, the plot begins in Lithuania during WWII when hes about seven years old. After his family is wiped out, he and his younger sister, Mischa, are left to fend for themselves against a group of gnarly and hungry Russian soldiers. Well, they decide to eat poor little Mischa, sparing Hannibal and setting up the inevitable duty of seeking revenge in his later years. After years of suffering in an orphanage, a teenage Hannibal finds sanctuary in France with the widow of his uncle, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li), who trains him to become a warrior and helps him recover the repressed memories of his horrific childhood. From there, Hannibal sets out to fulfil his oath to taste the blood of his sisters killers in the most gruesome and animalistic ways.
Despite establishing a back-story for cinemas most endearing psycho killer, Hannibal Rising is wrong from beginning to end. Never does this feel like the man weve come to know from Manhunter/Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Actor Gaspard Ulliel bears no resemblance physically or psychologically to Hopkinss Hannibal. He delivers his lines out of desperation and without any of the diabolical wit that made Lecter so frightening. And his stare is not only meek its also laughable.
However, whats truly mind-blowing about this films utter failure is the fact that its the first screenplay to be adapted by Harris himself. The script is unable to present one compelling character (even Li cant save her damaged mistress) or establish a convincing argument for Lecters mania (yes, even his sisters unfathomable demise somehow reaches a level of amusement).
The only redeeming quality Hannibal Rising has is that it never feels like a blood relative to the other films. Instead, its more like that unwelcome stepbrother that never fit in and deserved to go straight to DVD.